I have a “No Suffering Allowed” rule in my yoga classes. People usually think I’m kidding, but I really mean it. We have plenty of opportunity for suffering elsewhere in life and in the world. My belief is that your yoga practice, particularly in the space of a yoga class, should be enjoyable, safe, and uplifting. It should be a place to nourish your body, mind and spirit and always leave you feeling better than when you began.
No suffering may mean not forcing your body to do things that hurt or that your body doesn’t want to do. Pain is your body’s way of communicating. That’s how it “talks” to you. How often do we plow through the pain thinking it’s worth it for the end result or that our body’s signals aren’t valid or worth listening to? Pain is telling us that something that we’re doing isn’t working, and it needs to stop, or change, or get some TLC. Don’t drag you body kicking and screaming through a beating; listen to its signals and honor them.
No suffering may mean not pushing yourself to try to keep up with the person next to you, or to prove your worth to any one, including yourself! I believe that Yoga, like so many things, has become bastardized in America as a new form of competition and/or some assumed proof of value. Going harder/faster/bigger/bolder was never what yoga was intended to be about. Nor was working toward shocked “WOW!” reactions (transaltion: Holy Cow! How did you do that?!”) or awe struck “wowwwwwwww” reactions (translation: “OMG, you are SO enlightened”). The push to get there can leave us either feeling incompetent like we’re not good enough, or arrogant like no one else is good enough. As one of my favorite instructors often says, “Never compare yourself to the person next to you, as it will either make you vain or depressed, and neither one is a pretty thing!” Instead, be in your process, in your moment, in your experience and see where it takes you. I’m not saying to not try to stretch your limits or accomplish new things, I’m just suggesting that you stay conscious to your motives. When we learn to be in our own experience, while at the same time having an outsider’s objective, unattached, judgement-free observation, it can bring huge freedom to our body, our mind, and our soul!
No suffering may mean letting go of whatever is weighing you down. Whether it’s something going on at work, school, or home, or a health issue, or difficult relationship – let your yoga practice be a time to set aside anything that brings, well…suffering. I recognize that things in your life don’t go on pause while you practice, and you may find that you “can’t” let it go or stop thinking about it or being upset about it, and if that’s the case, then allow that to be okay – don’t cause more suffering by making yourself wrong for not “turning your mind off”. However, if you feel that you truly can’t let it go, even briefly, then consider this: it may very well have you, instead of you having it. Especially if your “thing” is anger driven, that may come as a surprise. We often think we’re mad because we choose to be mad, because we’re not going to let he/she/it/them “get” us. But if you can’t let it go, that could be a sign that your feelings have control over you (perhaps by the throat) and it’s no longer something you are hanging on to, but it is instead hanging on to you. Whatever it may be, whatever the cause, I encourage you to give yourself permission to set it aside, at least for that brief amount of time you are practicing yoga. Let it be okay to stop worrying about it or fuming over it or feeling sad about it, or whatever the emotion may be. It won’t make it go away, but it will give you a break, and perhaps with that lightened load you may even gain some insight or find some new strength to approach it with a fresh perspective.
Now, are you ready for the awesome kicker? What if by flexing that “no suffering” muscle on the mat, it could translate to other parts of life? You just may find that it does! You are the same you on your mat and off – your mat is just a dedicated space to practice … and you can practice so much more than just physical positions and breathing exercises. Ask yourself, where else in life could you benefit from taking care of yourself, listening to and honoring your body’s signals, being in your own process on your own path, free from any excess “stuff” weighing you down? The possibilities are limitless! So why suffer? Be good to yourself! Just like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, you already have everything you need within you to set yourself free!